As painful as an undesired separation from the city and people you love can be, there are profound truth’s to be learned in the process. These are thoughts of Emily Johnson as she and her husband Byron recently departed Donetsk, Ukraine, due to the completely realistic possibility of a military invasion by a foreign country
It’s been around 27 hours since I was really able to sleep.
And as I write this, I find myself sitting in an unfamiliar airport, surrounded by a foreign, unfamiliar language.
Of course, there is plenty of English here, but that’s not the familiar language I find myself longing for right now.
And I can’t help but slip into Russian when I ask people for directions, or buy water at a store.
The last 42 hours have been some of the hardest hours of my life.
I am confident that we are walking in the will of God, and that He told us to leave Donetsk, and to leave quickly.
But just because I’m walking in the will of God doesn’t mean this is easy.
I have always really appreciated Paul from the Bible. Since November, Byron has been teaching through the book of Acts at church. It’s been such an encouragement to revisit the details of Paul’s life.
Back when Paul was still called Saul, he was definitely a scoffer, mocker, and persecutor. He hated Jesus, and in Acts, we can read about how Paul stood by and held the garments of the men that stoned Stephen to death. Saul was a wretched man.
But one day, God captured His heart, and he became a new creation. He became Paul, a man who abided in Christ.
I remember when I became a new creation too.
It seems like such a long time ago now, because I am so far removed from the life I used to live.
I sought after the lusts of the flesh, and I knew that my life was a mess, but I just couldn’t stand the idea of completely giving my life over to God. I was also a mocker and a scoffer at times.
But God didn’t give up on Paul, and He didn’t give up on me.
And because God didn’t give up on me, I was able to become a new person, once I accepted the free gift of Christ’s salvation.
And once that happened, plus a few years, I was given the privilege to serve God in Ukraine.
When I boarded the plane, moving from Colorado to Ukraine, I cried.
Of course I cried.
I was leaving everything I had ever known.
But today, when I boarded that plane to leave Ukraine, I cried in a way that I’ve never cried before.
My heart truly broke in leaving Ukraine. I love this country so much.
And the precious city of Donetsk has captured my heart in a way that I never thought was possible.
As the airplane departed, images of the people I love in Donetsk flashed through my mind, and tears fell from my eyes.
And in that moment, I again felt myself identify with Paul.
I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for him to minister to people in a city and then turn around and leave – sometimes just for a season, but often indefinitely.
And Paul’s Words from 2 Timothy 1:4 ring so true for me right now,.
As I try to consider the lessons of Paul’s life, I feel myself suddenly realizing that I’m learning one right now that he had probably learned early on in his Christian life.
The Church is not my church, and the people are not my people.
They are God’s.
And how could I ever think that I could care for them better than God could?
As Byron and I prayed about leaving, we just kept asking each other, “but what will happen to the people that we’ve been ministering to, discipling, and sharing life with?”
It has taken me 42 hours to completely understand that nothing will happen to those people, because they are not my people, they are God’s.
And not only will He care for them, but He will care for them in a way that only their Heavenly Father can.
I think of words I’ve read in Matthew – if a wicked man gives his son good gifts, how much more will your Heavenly Father?
As I wait, just sitting, attempting to charge my phone, document my thoughts, and crying off and on as I write, I hear the encouraging words, “and this too shall pass” ring through my mind (thanks Papa Dave).
The Christian life wasn’t designed to be easy.
We’re assured hardships and persecution throughout the New Testament.
But we’re also promised that Jesus will be with us to the very end of the age, to the very ends of the earth, and through eternity.
As much as I love the city of Donetsk and its people and long to see that city captivated by the transforming grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, I realize something profound.
God loves the people of Donetsk so much more than I do….so much, that He died for them, years before they or the city even existed.
For Christ demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were still sinners, He died for us.
And I guess, in the midst of all of this pain, I can see it unfolding into a beautiful Easter message.
Jesus died, that we all might have life, and life abundantly.
And He hasn’t given up on pursuing any of us, and I know, with or without me, Jesus will continue to pursue the hearts of the people of Donetsk.